Something sometimes pulls at my heart-strings: a sort of Swiss Family Robinson scenerio with kids riding ostriches across rope bridges between huge trees - or am I confusing in images from Avatar? maybe better the image of the splendid home in the empty desert badlands of The Searchers (John Wayne!), a lonely White family with porcelin china in a grand log manison where no trees grew, and with bags of gold coming from afar... let's remember, the Lisu and Lahu, like many other tribes, most certainly DID have their communication/exchange routes across international boundaries, much as they always had had across cultural ones. And more power and respect to them for that.
Anyway, there's a story from around here of European-descent folk walking over mountains and through sub-Himalayan tropical jungle into Burma, where they built homes of local materials at hand, found food from nature, and raised kids who cavorted with local tribespeople. More on that story in a bit.
Anthropologists like Napoleon Chagnon and American researcher Kenneth Good (who married a Yanomami girl and had kids by her, one of whom recently returned from New Jersey to the Upper Amazon jungle of his mother, whom he found happily re-integrated there) may have lived quite primively with close-to-the-earth peoples like the Yanamamo, but always with thought of return, hope for accomplishment, sense of connection back to what they came from... to lose that would be not only to lose self-image, but to lose hope, health, reason to go on, ability to return... things the Morse/Swiss-family Robinson family did NOT lose.
So often we think of our "gestalt" over-view as correct, in accord with fact, the only reasonable approach to things, forgetting about language changing, as things do (especially vernacular speech), not only in relation to context, but to mood and time of life. Some prefer to call this context "narrative" (as followers of Theories of Literary Criticism will have it), or attitude, belief, pre-conceived somewhat unconscious notions cherished in dreams, fantasy and endearments used between loved ones.
Science, quite like math, or maps, doesn't apply to all we experience, and language reflects that, too.
A while back (July, 2008), I wrote this for internet consumption:
The Summer Institute of Linguistics and the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) have done extensive translating work, to convey the Word of God (as they see it). Summer Institute’s first president, Kenneth L. Pike (served 1942-1979), developed a system of linguistic analysis in the 1950s and applied it to the description of a very large number of hitherto unrecorded languages. Encyclopedia Britannica explains, “Tagmemics differs from alternative systems of grammatical analysis in that it defines the basic units of language (tagmemes) as composite elements, one part being the “slot,” or “function,” and the other the “filler,” or “class.” For example, one such tagmeme, at the syntactic level of analysis, might be the noun-as-subject (in which the noun is a class that “fills” the subject “slot” in a construction).”
What interests me here is the concept of word, or basic unit of language. Like number, it may be a concept of quite more limited viable applicability in the real world than is commonly acknowledged. When teaching, as I occasionally do, I find things hardly so cut and dried. My young sister-without-law fails to grasp the concept, similarly as she fails to grasp the sounds of English language. She’s not trying to be difficult or lazy – the correspondences we, who grew up in Western society, so easily assume, simply do not really exist. For her, and for many others.
In one place, a letter, in English or any other language, will have one sound, in another, another. In one place, a ‘word’ will appear in one way, in another, another. Syllables, parts of speech, suffixes, prefixes – it’s simply not the same in all languages. In all, parts make greater wholes, and there may be something like sentences, even paragraphs, but I well remember a guy trying to get the message of his Indian guru put into written Thai, demanding that the Thai words be separated. It simply couldn’t be done!
We like a sense of unity, indivisibility – but, where in the perceptible world does it actually, unequivocally exist? It doesn’t. No atom, nor indivisible particle. No unarguably distinct boundaries. No absolute correspondence between map and thing mapped… though certainly some alphabets suit some languages better than others. The Bible (pra-kam-phii in Thai, meaning respectable or revered word of scripture; profound treatise) will surely deliver a more than slightly altered message in different languages (which are always variant ways of looking at things). Not to denigrate faith, work on translation which helps people to communicate, or teaching in general, do I present this quandary, but rather to analyze what we are doing when we assert ourselves. We certainly sometimes anticipate, or desire, responses different than results we actually incur. This is normal.
We find it easy to assume that things actually are as we see them, and so, that others can discover the same truth we try to act upon. But systems apply only within contexts – as Russians found in trying to bring communism to Mongolia, and the USA is beginning to find trying to bring ‘democracy’ to the Mid-East. Mongolia had no ‘oppressed’ proletariat, and Persians and Arabs might even see leadership more accurately than do hapless citizens of the USA, in bondage to advertising.
An Akha tribe friend once invited me to her house for Christmas festivities. On the TV was a show of Bible stories, set, naturally, in a desert. I saw no correspondence between what was presented on the screen and life in the ‘Christian’ village around me. On the other hand, I did notice there, as I had noticed long before in Korea, a distinct correspondence between acquiescence to ‘membership’ and ‘belief’ and access to otherwise unavailable material ‘goods’!
Matthew McDaniel of Akha Heritage Foundation wrote at www.akha.org that “There is Youth With a Mission, New Tribes Mission, and a host of others, all hidden from the eye, unless you have done years of research, a huge mission picture, millions of dollars in trucks, compounds, salaries, budgets, but the villages are dying without representation and without a penny. They have no rights and the people are being destroyed and the missions are helping it be done.”
His comments on Paul W. Lewis, Bill and Gordon Young (the “Young Dynasty” – were they all CIA, as has been claimed?), the Meese and Morse families, Rose Martinez, and Dr. Edwin McDaniel, who Matthew McDaniel (any relation?) says helped Dr. Paul Lewis (author with wife Elaine of the wonderful “Peoples of the Golden Triangle” – and now in retirement in Claremont, California) sterilize more than 20,000 Akha women in Burma’s Eastern Shan State… seem pretty derogatory, but with some strong base in truth. He wrote, “witnesses are afraid to speak out against Paul Lewis publicly, stating that he is a very powerful man and that they fear people who continue to get money under the table from his Baptist related organizations will retaliate against them.” Dr. Lewis, though, says, “I helped between 300 and 350 Akha women from Burma receive an operation they greatly wanted and needed. They were most anxious to have the operation because they could not take care of the children they already had.” Also, “For over 40 years I gave my life and talent to help these people in every way possible, but I always worked WITH them, and sought to turn over all aspects of the work to them as quickly as possible. In regard to the family planning program, I turned all of that over to the Thai Government at the end of our seven and a half years of service.” Anonymous Akhas reportedly replied, “They killed the best of our people…
“The years between 1950-1965 saw the work firmly established in North Burma. During the early 1950s, the mission helped settle over 20,000 Lisu and Rawang Christians onto the Putao plains. Over thirty model villages were established in the process, all of them interconnected with excellent roads and bridges.
“Swamps were drained off to fight malaria-infested mosquitoes while new land was opened up for agriculture. Citrus trees from North America were brought in and grafted onto native lemon stock which resulted in significantly improving the health of the population. Schools were started to provide education for the children of the first generation of Christians. In many respects, this period in the history of the mission was the most productive and rewarding.
“Between 1966-1972, the mission was… forced
“This began a seven year wilderness experience as the mission became completely cut off from the outside world. Jungle survival was the new name of the game as the Morses and thousands of native Christians struggled to live off the land. The group eventually carved out self contained villages in the wilds, where community life was allowed to be guided by Christian principles.
“A real sense of peace and harmony prevailed throughout this new community until the Burmese government stumbled across the lost villages in early 1972. The missionaries were rounded up and removed to lower Burma. The Morses now became guests of the military government and spent the next three months at the Mandalay Central Prison before they were allowed to leave the country.” The site claims most of the villages in the Hidden Valley area have now reverted back to jungle, but citrus trees planted by J. Russell Morse, which once eased local malnutrition, still thrive. Also, there are "herds of elephants that seem to deliberately tiptoe around the fruit trees as if they too want to keep the trees alive."
“Since 1973, the mission has been based in Thailand. In Thailand… concentrated primarily on establishing churches among the Lisu, Lahu and Akha hill people. The mission is involved in a broad range of ministries that include church planting, village development work, Bible translation and literacy work, Christian literature production, promoting preventive health and sanitation, introducing alternative crops and agricultural techniques, children’s education, and leadership training.” See also: Eugene Morse, “Exodus To A Hidden Valley” (Cleveland: William Collins Publishing Co., 1974); Gertrude Morse, “The Dogs May Bark…But The Caravan Moves On” (Joplin: College Press, 1998) and Mischa Berlinski, “Fieldwork” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007).
Progress (in Thai, khwam-khao-na, stepping forward, or jarern, to grow, prosper, thrive, advance, increase, and thus, also, jarern-khao-na…), or, if you prefer, development (gan-pattana, advancement), may be less valuable concepts than adaption (gan-prap-tua, especially about sapap-wetlom, the state of the environment). Adapting to circumstances may not get one closer to any goal, other than extending life’s goodness. And life’s goodness isn’t about possessing, or winning, or even achieving, but about interacting pleasantly, sharing good moods, absorbing delicious nutrition and enjoying pleasant rest. Things, and entertainment, don’t teach a child to interact pleasantly; guidance by the well-adapted does. Rich kids are often desperately hungry – sullen, angry, demanding and arrogant. That’s not happy. Nor can teaching through words make them so; only by example can they learn the satisfactions of giving, sharing, and being part of something greater than the illusory self. The Morse family, to live in the jungle, must have had something to share other than words from a BOOK. And that kind of faith is good. Missionaries may usually cause more damage than good – that depends on how one looks at things. But the temptations of the modern were going to arrive and be there, missionaries or no… and few have proven readily able to adapt to their temptations! By living so much higher than those they preach to, the worse missionaries may even have provided an exceptionally instructive example… Certainly not all affected by them have become greedy!
Local expat internet "discussion-group" forum trolls who hide behind pseudonyms didn't take to it very well (one eventually commenting, "Do we need to eat this can of worms?" see file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/acer/My%20Documents/morse%20valley/A%20Little%20On%20Linguistics%20-%20Chiang%20Rai%20Forum%20-%20Thailand%20Forum.htm )
J. Russell and Gertrude Morse resigned from the United Christian Missionary Society and launched out as "independent" missionaries, establishing a new base in the Yunnan Province of southwest China (1926; they came in 1921). At the end of 1940, the mission moved its base of operations into the Salween Valley of the Yunnan Province, and remained there throughout World War II. From 1942 to 1945, the two older sons of J. Russell and Gertrude helped Allied forces by organizing a network of ground search and rescue teams to aid downed airmen. As the many of the search and rescue teams consisted of native Christians who carried the Bible with them as they traversed "the Hump" area in search of surviving pilots, the missionaries and Lisu Christians came into increasing contact with new groups, including the Rawang people of northern Burma who later became a major force in cross-cultural church proselytization. By 1946, the Christian population within the mission's area of work was reportedly almost 6,000.
The Communist takeover of China in 1949 disrupted this proselytization; the mission had to evacuate all personnel from their stations. J. Russell Morse was captured by Communists and imprisoned for 15 months. The mission and many Lisu Christians fled to North Burma, where they found it wise to avoid notice by the Burmese government, and miraculously, it seems, were able to do so.
Since 1973, the mission has been based in Thailand, concentrating primarily on establishing churches among the Lisu, Lahu and Akha hill peoples. It's involved in a broad range of activities, including "village development work, Bible translation and literacy work, Christian literature production, promoting preventive health and sanitation, introducing alternative crops and agricultural techniques, children's education, and leadership training."
While it's nice to imagine Morse children palying with Lisu children in the arboreal wilds, I wonder, were the Morse family entriely cut off from modern civilization during their stay at Hidden Valley? I've no details, but reason for doubt.
Tales of Morse adventures are told at length in Gertrude Morse's "The Dogs May Bark: But the Caravan Moves on" (the title apparently from an old Arab proverb about the lowly making noise in the face of manifest progress) of their time in China, and son Eugene Morse's, "Exodus to a Hidden Valley" (1974); but I've not found access to those books (they're available over the internet, but shipping to Thailand is tricky, and I'm unconvinced ordering would be worth what would be involved).
So far, all very fine and well, it would seem.
"Akha News Service" (Matthew McDaniel, then of) Maesai, Chiangrai, Thailand, reported, March 15, 1999, on:
Sterilization and Blood Theft Perpetrated Against Akha People by American Baptist Missionary:
Rumored widely for many years witnesses have now stepped forward who claim that the American Baptist Missionary Paul Lewis sterilized more than 20,000 Akha Hill Tribe women in Burma's Eastern Shan State alone, running his operation on trust that he had built as a missionary and student of their culture.
This project was done secretly without the approval of the Burmese Government by requiring the women to come into Thailand for the procedure, using many people in the Baptist Church hierchy to organize the movement of the trusting women, who now claim they had little education as to what the long term effect on their lives would be. Government leaders in this region of Burma now know about the project and say that it was illegal in that it did not have Burmese government approval or proper documentation that the rights of the women were not being violated.
Although Burma is much maligned for human rights violations, activities of western organizations such as this appear to be disregarded by the same agencies which make the human rights reports.
In addition witnesses now verify the rumor that blood was simultaneously stolen from these women for resale. Taken during the sterilization procedure blood was collected in amounts of 200 and 300 ml. Attending family members or friends of the women were witness to this as well. Women who received local anethesia only saw for themselves that the blood was being taken. They did not know why the blood was being taken out of their arm at the same time as the rather unrelated surgery.
The women were only paid for the cost of the truck to come down to the clinic where they would be sterilized just south of the border in Thailand.
There was no follow up care and even to this day in this region of Burma medical care is very difficult to come by for the poor.
Of the more than 20,000 who witnesses say were sterilized in Burma alone, they say that more than 3,000 women died. Many developed a weakened condition, began loosing weight, the pain related to the surgery did not subside and in the end they died. These deaths ranged from a period of time ranging in two months after the surgery to three years.
In a past video interview Paul Lewis claimed that any pain related to the surgery was simply phsycosomatic and that the sterilizations were the right thing to do and "should be done".
Information from Matthew McDaniel, an apparently somewhat self-serving Colonel Kurtz type (as from Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now), a very anti-missionary missionary who dressed his wives far better than other locals could ever hope to afford (from donations to his cause) while maintaining a sexist, autocratic and domineering position through which he is reported to have terrorized volunteers and even his own family, for half a decade now permanently exiled from Thailand, his children's home country, can be taken as suspect, but he, although sometimes wrong, is no liar.
Paul and Elaine Lewis, authors of the wonderful "Peoples of the Golden Triangle" began as missionaries in Kengtung, Shan State, Burma, 1957-1966. Paul Lewis also produced an English-Lahu-Thai dictionary. After 1968 the Lewis family served in Northern Thailand for the Board of International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches.
McDaniel also reported on the case of Bobby Morse, a descendent of J. Russell and Gertrude, and his purported rape of hill tribe girls, investigated and perhaps tried (?) in Chiangmai, which I'll suggest as evidence of how many, if not most, missionaries really stood in relation to their "natives." They're not really to be treated as family, having not the wisdom guns and the Bible have given some of us, I suppose. Bobby may or may not have raped, but he clearly made soem pretty bitter enemies.
Regularly I witness missionaries spending lots of money, for instance in restaurants other expat "farang" choose not to afford, and at home supply stores offering luxuries real locals can only be amazed at, not yet knowing at all how to use. The Christians and other "volunteers" get to enjoy travel, the exotic (including beaches!) and each others' company, while patting themselves on the back for the good they do.
Missionary fashions change, as fashion does, and is turned now in a big way to "orphanages" like the one behind our property, which explains the frequent absence of children there on their all having gone to visit their parents.